Friday, July 11, 2008

Dominican Fashion Statements

As most of you know, I’ve never been that interested in American fashion (my love for Project Runway not withstanding). I’m not terribly interested in Dominican fashion, either—at least, not in dressing according to Dominican fashion. I am, however, abstractly interested in a few select Dominican fashion trends. I will share these with you, so that if you come visit me you can be oh-so-chic.

-Giant polo shirt logos. For some reason, it’s very popular for men to wear polo shirts where the little guy-playing-polo logo is about 6 inches tall, and done in a variety of colors. At this size, it is quite apparent that the polo player on the polo shirt is himself wearing a polo shirt, which is a slightly meta-fashion statement.

-Hair rollers. Dominican women almost universally want straight hair, but very few Dominicans have naturally straight hair. So women put their hair in rollers to straighten it out. However, they will then walk all around town in these rollers… to the store, to a friend’s house, to church even. I don’t understand why wearing your hair rollers in public is more acceptable than wearing your curly hair in public, but trust me, it is.

-Extreme color coordination. The height of fashion for Dominican women is color coordination between your shirt, your jewellery, and your eyeshadow. Ideally, your shoes and purse will also join in. The look can be slightly overwhelming, especially when the chosen color is pink.

-T-shirts with vaguely inappropriate English sayings. A lot of used American clothing makes its way over to the DR, where it is happily worn by most people. However, I often see people wearing shirts that I feel they would not like so much if they understood what they said. For example, my very conservative host sister frequently wears a shirt that says “Cowgirls have it. Cowboys want it.” And I doubt if a “Top 10 Reasons I’m a Stoner” T-shirt would have gone over very well at my youth group meeting if it had been in Spanish. I also saw a teenage boy wearing a shirt that said “I just need to marry rich,” and a small child wearing a shirt that said “You can’t afford me.” (The latter particularly alarmed me, because it means that somewhere someone actually made those shirts in children’s sizes. Creepy!)

-Painfully tight clothing. Another PCV described Dominican women as wearing “pants so tight it matters if you shave your legs or not.” I don’t understand how they can bear it in this heat, but bear it they do.

Meanwhile, I continue to wear loose-fitting khakis, sleeveless LL Bean blouses, and no makeup, but I’m still labelled “bonita” because I have light skin and straight-ish hair. As an unfortunate legacy of colonialism, the beauty ideal here is to be white. This is especially regrettable since hardly anyone here looks white. Dominicans are a blend of African, Taino Indian, and Spanish blood, so they are all various shades of brown. Most look, say, Halle Berry color, although some are darker and some are lighter. It’s not at all uncommon for Dominican public figures to heavily powder their skin for public appearances or photos, to whiten themselves up a bit.

I would like for my secondary project to be starting a new “Black is Beautiful” (“Dominican is Divine”?) movement down here, but I think starting an entire shift in cultural norms might be a steep undertaking for two years. For starters, Dominicans consider “black” to be an insult, and instead call their skin color “indio claro” (light Indian) or “indio oscuro” (dark Indian). “Moreno,” dark, is derogatory. We’ll see, though… the United States still has pretty rigid beauty norms, but they’ve been evolving over the last few decades, and I’m hopeful they can evolve here, too.

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